In preparation for my recent trip to Salida and Buena Vista, CO, I read about the historic ghost town of St. Elmo. I, therefore, made a point to drive up and explore. I was so glad that I did. The scenery along the way is really spectacular and the historic buildings, that are still standing downtown, are very unique and make it one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado. With 43 buildings, the St. Elmo Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. It is considered a ghost town, though it is still inhabited.
St. Elmo, located in Chaffee County, was founded in 1880. It lies in the heart of the Sawatch Range, 24 miles southwest of Buena Vista at an elevation of 9,961 feet. You can drive south of Buena Vista or north of Salida on Route 285 and then head west on Highway 162 at Nathrop.
First called Forest City, it was served by the Denver South Park & Pacific Railroad from 1880 until 1899. Nearly 2,000 people settled in the town when mining for gold and silver started with over 150 patented mine claims in the area. The St. Elmo Mining District in Chalk Creek Canyon produced significant amounts of ore. The majority of the people who lived in St. Elmo worked at the Mary Murphy, Teresa C. and The Molly or the Pioneer Mines.
This once thriving town fell on hard times when the mining industry started to decline in the early 1920s, and in 1926 when the railroad discontinued service.
The original town included a telegraph office, general store, town hall, five hotels, saloons, dancing halls, a newspaper office and a schoolhouse. Many of the original properties were donated by the Stark family to the Historic St. Elmo, Inc. (HSE), which continues to preserve the town and restore some of the buildings. Visitors can donate to the restoration online or in donation tubes in several locations around town. The structures are an excellent example of wood frame commercial buildings and residences constructed in the 1880s and 1890s in their original setting.
Many buildings are still in existence, though the town hall and a few other buildings were destroyed by a fire in 2002. Today you can see several cabins, the blacksmith and livery building, a remnant of the American House Hotel, an undertaker’s parlor, the Home Comfort Hotel and store, the rebuilt Town Hall and the St. Elmo School.
The old St. Elmo General Store is one of the few remaining businesses in the historic town, and offers a wide variety of antiques, souvenirs, ice cream, drinks and snack foods plus ATV and cabin rentals. You can wander through and visit, as well as view more antiques outside in the back and along the side. It is open during the summer months only.
You can park in one of the lots upon entering the town and then walk the length of Main Street. Several of the buildings have exhibitions about the town’s history with photographs, books and documents.
I highly recommend that you visit and enjoy seeing this historic town in its beautiful setting.